Morbius: Will ‘Morbin Time’ Sequel Happen if Folks Keep Hate-Watching?
The meme-ification and theater return of Sony’s Morbius raises the question of whether a movie franchise can become popular ironically?
Morbius is coming back to theaters. No, stop laughing. We’re being serious! The vampire-superhero spinoff, which is based on an obscure piece of Spider-Man IP, might’ve been met with derision and chuckles last April when it opened to a (just barely) respectable $39 million—and then tumbled a disastrous 74 percent in its second weekend—but Morbius has now become such a darling of fan culture on home media that it’s getting a second life in theaters.
“THE MORBIUS returns to over 1,000+ theaters this weekend!” trumpeted the industry’s centralized box office analysts, Exhibitor Relations Co., in a tweet that stylized Morbius’ title in the vein of Matt Reeves’ The Batman. All that was missing was the ‘LOL’ emoji. And why not? It is kind of a funny story. A weekend after the whole industry seemed to breathe a sigh of relief due to an old-fashioned Hollywood epic like Top Gun: Maverick breaking the Memorial Day weekend record, here returns a movie that nobody seemed to like very much a few months ago—and one that’s a grotesque monument to the cynicism of modern “shared universe” Hollywood logic. And it could yet become a hit.
Consider that “It’s Morbin’ Time” is a phrase that’s been trending on social media for over a week despite the cheesy movie quote not actually appearing in the movie. All of which begs a simple question: Could Morbius really get a sequel based on folks hate-watching it on VOD and now back in theaters?
That’s obviously open-ended, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. For starters, at a certain point one has to wonder if folks are really hating-watching Morbius in larger numbers or just enjoying watching it? To be sure, the movie received scathing reviews when it premiered in theaters in April. The pic currently sits at a brutal 17 percent “positive” score on the aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes. That’s lower than the 2007 Ghost Rider (which Morbius plays suspiciously similar to), and our own review stated, “[The] picture’s vampire conceit is wasted for a Hot Topic variation on a movie we’ve already seen done better and (maybe) worse.”
So it wasn’t the belle of the ball with critics, and it seems many of the audience members who turned up in the first weekend agreed considering the movie earned a toxic “C+” CinemaScore, which suggested the word-of-mouth was horrid. The second weekend drop bore that out, as did the fact the movie earned only $73 million in total nationally.
However, the film’s trajectory on digital release is a different story. Currently, Morbius sits at a relatively gentle 71 percent “positive” score among audiences who voted on Rotten Tomatoes. And while that poll is certainly unscientific, it does suggest a generally growing sense of fondness for the movie among those who are renting it online for $19.99. And, indeed, the movie has proven to be one of the most popular PVOD rentals of the last several weeks, debuting in first place on premium video-renter Vudu and in second place on Apple’s iTunes and Google Play where it notably was behind Sony’s Uncharted, which is currently being rented for $5.99 in the U.S., as opposed to Morbius’ $19.99 (which stems from the picture being rushed online after a mere 45 days versus a longer theatrical window for Uncharted).
Now, are people renting the movie ironically? And are these same folks encouraging friends to do it too as a gag? It’s possible given the subjective but generally prevailing notion among critics that the movie is a half-hearted abomination created by a studio with a seemingly fatalist desire to replicate the Marvel Studios formula no matter how monstrous or unholy the results.
However, there is a chance the movie could wind up turning a small profit on home release. While the movie was a disappointment at the domestic box office, it still nearly matched its production budget of $75 million in the U.S. where it grossed a total of $73.3 million (and counting). Further, when the global box office is taken into account, it has thus far earned $163.3 million. With its cheap-for-a-blockbuster budget (a product and, in this case, godsend from Sony Pictures CEO Tom Rothman’s legendarily spendthrift tendencies), the movie isn’t that far off from turning a profit based on the old conventional wisdom that a film needs to triple its budget at the box office to offset exhibitors’ take and marketing costs.
If that rule of thumb applies to Morbius, it should probably enter the green due to VOD popularity and ancillary markets. The question thus becomes if squeaking past a crisis due to a lowball budget and “It’s Morbin’ Time” memes can somehow create a safe space to green light a true Morbius 2? After all, it’s worth noting the meme has persisted long enough that it’s subtly shifted from mocking the movie to championing it by keeping the product at the forefront of the minds of digital audiences. Is it getting them to like it?
If we’re being completely honest, probably not. Right down to Exhibitor Relations Co. cheekily heralding Morbius’ return to theaters by casting the movie in the same self-serious light as The Batman, the entire perception around this flick continues to be sarcastic. Attempting to roll the dice again on a would-be franchise because social media made Morbius ironically cool would be a hell of a risk given similar superhero sequels based off of movies that were lukewarmly received the first time tended to lose a lot of money. Think of that Ghost Rider follow-up, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) or how even James Gunn’s genuinely great The Suicide Squad (2021) suffered in the shadow of its successful but generally loathed predecessor, Suicide Squad (2016).
If these numbers suggest anything, it’s that under the right circumstances Morbius could have a future as a streaming star, a character audiences watch from the comfort of their couches once every year or two for a laugh. However, Sony remains one of the few major studios left without a streaming service of its own, which makes that prospect a nonstarter. Why let Jared Leto’s Dr. Micahel Morbius finally say, “It’s Morbin’ Time” on a Netflix released Morbius 2: Let There Be Morb when he can do it in the trailer for the much-threatened Sinister Six movie? The character certainly has become a celebrity of sorts on TikTok and Twitter. Use that to the advantage of another franchise that hasn’t been tarnished by poor box office and word of mouth.
But then again, this is all assuming that Sony looks at the movie’s renaissance in public perception to be a lark. One could look at the same data and have a wildly optimistic alternative take: Audiences were primed to hate Morbius in April by mean-spirited critics in a feeding frenzy, and now a larger audience is being conditioned to welcome the damn thing with open arms because of memes.
If that’s the case, we could yet see Morbius 2: No More B.S., and, who knows, maybe it can hit bigger? If that happens in a world where movies like The Northman, Ambulance, and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent can flop, it might be the biggest joke of all.